HC Deb 05 April 1951 vol 486 cc442-7
Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

I beg to move, in page 15, line 1, after "power," to insert: after consultation with such bodies, if any, as appear to them to be representative of the interests concerned. We have just provided that before the Authority can either make a regulation or introduce a scheme it must formally consult various interests in the industry. Another matter is involved. The body must raise money. If it is proper for the Authority to consult interests in the industry before making a scheme or regulations, it is equally proper for it to consult the industry before deciding upon the levies. Two kinds of levies may be made: one, a general levy, and the other a special levy, and both may be made upon the same man or group of men or locality or localities.

I consulted my fishermen constituents when the Bill was introduced and, per- haps because they were Scotsmen, the thing in which they were most keenly interested was the levy. They asked how it was to be imposed and who would pay it and in what conditions it would be paid. That would be a natural reaction for even Englishmen and Welshmen and it was certainly a very proper reaction for Scotsmen. All fishermen will expect the Authority to consult the various branches of the industry before drawing up its scheme of levies.

The House will observe that special levies may be imposed upon such persons as the schemes authorise and that additional sums may be imposed upon those persons. Subsection (3) says: Any levy imposed by the Authority under this section shall be payable by such persons engaged in the white fish industry, in such proportions and at such times as may be prescribed or,…as may be provided by a scheme… As the levy is apparently to be linked up with the details of the scheme or the regulations, it would be completely illogical to say that the Authority must consult interests before drawing up a scheme or a regulation but must not consult them before deciding on the precise form of the levy. Before issuing a general or special levy, the Authority should be required to consult the industry. I have adopted words used by the right hon. Gentleman, in the three preceding Amendments. We ought to be logical and sensible about this, and, having applied the principle a few moments ago, we should apply it again now.

Captain Duncan

I beg to second the Amendment.

Although we have reached the Report stage of the Bill, we do not yet know exactly how the levy will be imposed. The Clause says that the levy should be: …a sum not exceeding for any financial year one penny for every stone of white fish…. We do not know whether that will be a flat rate levy per stone of every kind of fish landed or whether it will be at a different rate for different kinds of fish—a higher rate on the more expensive fish and a lower rate on the cheaper fish. On the Committee stage the Minister of Agriculture said that we must leave this to the Authority. If that is so, it is surely only fair to try to get the agreement of the interests concerned so that the levy scheme shall work satisfactorily. It is only reasonable that these words should be inserted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart), has pointed out that these words are almost identical with words just inserted by the Minister. I would emphasise the word "bodies" in the Amendment, for these need not necessarily be national bodies. The inshore fishing industry has not national but local bodies which represent the interests concerned. It is therefore necessary to have a wide interpretation in order to get the widest possible concurrence of the industry which must be obtained before the scheme can be satisfactorily settled. The inclusion of these words will contribute to the smooth working of the Bill.

Mr. E. Evans

Would not that suggestion defeat the very object the hon. and gallant Gentleman has in mind? He has just told us that the small inshore fisherman is not organised on a national basis. Was not the pressure during the Committee stage from the big sections of the industry—the big trawler owners at Hull and so on—in order that the smaller, higher quality fish would pay a differential which would operate against it? The argument just put by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that he cannot get a national body to represent the smaller men, would be defeated by the difficulty of getting their opinions.

Captain Duncan

I have already explained that the word "bodies" is so wide as to include not only the big trawler owner but also the inshore, local interests, such as the Arbroath Fishermen's Association or the Firth of Forth Fishermen's Association.

Mr. T. Williams

The hon. Member for Fyfe, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart), said that we do not know even now what these levies will be, on whom they will fall, in what proportion, and so forth. Hon. Members were told during the Committee stage that the question of the levy would obviously have to be left to the Authority. We have already accepted three Amendments laying statutory obligations on the authority to consult the interests before they produce schemes or regulations, before they decide upon the levy, how it shall be assessed, and so forth. Therefore consultation is safeguarded and there can be no levies until a regulation is produced on which the interests concerned have already been consulted. Now, however, because we have responded to the calls from the Opposition for consultation here, there and elsewhere, hon. Members come forward with another demand for consultation. It really is going too far and is quite unacceptable.

Mr. Henderson Stewart


Mr. Williams

I will tell the hon. Member why. The Authority, not the industry generally, must take full responsibility for maintaining their own solvency. If the hon. Member has noted the effect of his own Amendment, he will find that even before the Authority could borrow money with the approval of the Minister and with the consent of the Treasury, to carry out their undertakings, they would have to consult the various interests. It would be a new departure in any legislation I have ever seen if an authority acting for the Government had to consult some other interests to determine whether or not they should borrow funds. That is an extraordinary suggestion and is not one of which I could approve.

Once the programme of the Authority has been settled, after proper consultation with the industry on policy—and thus on its financial implications—the authority must be left to take the necessary measures to finance the programmes they have undertaken. Surely in financial matters the Authority will be answerable to Ministers and also to Parliament in their annual reports. The means of control are the audit provided for in Clause 16 and the control which Ministers and Parliament will exercise over the funds of the Authority, whether the moneys are provided by Parliament or from some other source.

It was quite proper for hon. Members to seek statutory obligations for consultation on policy; it is quite another thing to compel the Authority to consult all the interests down to the smallest inshore fishery port, before they can proceed to borrow, to provide themselves with a levy to finance their operations, and to do all the things required by the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded this Amendment. I hope, however, now that they see the full implications of what it would mean, they will not be disposed to press the Amendment further.

Amendment negatived.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Duthie (Banff)

I beg to move, in-page 15, line 6, after "Britain," to insert: including fish imported from foreign sources. This Amendment refers to fish that comes in a boxed state direct to central markets without passing through the quayside market. There is no specific mention in the Bill of such fish, and we feel that because of the importance of this section of the trade, and the effect that this fish can have on the whole of the activities of the Authority, it should be especially mentioned as subject to the levy. In the Second Reading debate, I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether this fish was the subject of a levy. The reply of the right hon. Gentleman was that his guess was that it would apply, but we would have to leave that to the Authority. We feel that it should be incumbent upon the Authority, through the agency of this Measure, that the levy should apply equally to boxed imported fish as to other fish landed at the quayside.

Mr. D. Marshall

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. G. Brown

I hope the hon. Gentleman will feel, after my explanation, that there is no need to press his Amendment. There is a technical objection to it in that this is the wrong place to achieve his purpose. Also it is unnecessary to import those words here to have the desired effect. The phrase "white fish landed in Great Britain" clearly includes in its meaning foreign-caught fish landed in Great Britain. It could not possibly be interpreted in any other way, and the inclusion of the words "including fish imported from foreign sources" would throw doubt on the same phrase anywhere else in the Bill that did not include those additional words.

Mr. Duthie

The hon. Gentleman will realise that this boxed fish does not come through the quayside ports.

Mr. Brown

But if we can get it clear first of all that it applies to all white fish landed in Great Britain, the question arises whether the arrangements made to collect the levy will catch fish which does not come through the quayside ports. In Clause 19, it is stated: a person shall be deemed to engage in the white fish industry if he carries on the business of operating fishing vessels for the catching or landing of white fish, or if he carries on in Great Britain the business of selling white fish by wholesale or by retail or of processing white fish… So that an importer, a wholesaler, or even a retailer, in the appropriate circumstances can be made the person to pay the levy. Therefore, all white fish landed in Britain, whether it comes in to the quayside ports or is boxed at another point in the ladder of sale, will obviously get caught under Clause 19 according to the point at which it is convenient and appropriate to catch it. Therefore, since the Amendment would add nothing, but would throw doubt on the phrase elsewhere, I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to withdraw his Amendment.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down, North)

The Parliamentary Secretary emphasised several times the words "Great Britain." I think and hope that the Parliament of Northern Ireland will agree to the Bill and will wish to come in with a member from Northern Ireland on the Scottish Committee. If and when Northern Ireland comes in, will the words "Great Britain" mean the United Kingdom?

Mr. G. Brown

That has nothing to do with the Amendment. The answer to that has already been given, and if the hon. and gallant Member refers to Clause 20, he will see that the necessary provision is made.

Mr. Duthie

In view of the hon. Gentleman's explanation, which will be of great value to the trade as a whole, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.